Skip to main content

Dish: C.21-1995

An image of Dish

Terms of use

These images are provided for non-commercial use under a Creative Commons License (BY-NC-ND). To license a high resolution version, please contact our image library who will discuss fees, terms and waivers.

Download this image

Creative commons explained - what it means, how you can use our's and other people's content.

Object information

Current Location: Gallery 7 (Courtauld)


Painter: Sforza di Marcantonio
Printmaker: Dente, Marco (Marco da Ravenna)




Earthenware, tin-glazed, painted in blue, greyish-green, yellow, orange, shades of brown, and black; the reverse is pale beige and has several pin holes. Circular with wide sloping rim and shallow curved well, convex in the centre.
The front is decorated overall with the Suicide of Hero. In the foreground, Leander lies drowned in water. On the right, a man seated on a rock looks towards him, raising his right arm. On the left, Cupid stands holding a flaming torch. In the background there is an archway inscribed 'AMOR.NE. CAVSA' (Love is the cause of it), the lower part of a tower, and a doorway with a window above. Hero is shown falling from a window in the tower. The edge is encircled by a very narrow black band and a wide yellow band. The back is decorated with a wreath of blue leaves on a continuous wavy stem. The base is inscribed in blue, 'Leandro in Mare &./Hero alla finestra/.61./.S.


History note: Purchased. Given to the vendor's husband by his mother, who bought it an antique shop.

Legal notes

Purchased with the F. Leverton Harris Fund and the Leonard D. Cunliffe Fund

Measurements and weight

Diameter: 30 cm
Height: 4.2 cm

Place(s) associated

  • Pesaro ⪼ The Marches ⪼ Italy

Acquisition and important dates

Method of acquisition: Bought (1995)


16th Century
Production date: AD 1561 : dated '61'


During the second and third decades of the sixteenth century the maiolica industry in Pesaro was less flourishing than in the previous century. This situation improved after Guidobaldo II della Rovere succeeded to the dukedom of Urbino in 1538, because he preferred to live at Pesaro. The presence of the court stimulated local industries, and from around 1540 Pesaro became a significant producer of istoriato maiolica.

Hero was a priestess of Venus at Sestos. Leander, her lover, used to swim the Hellespont to see her, guided by a torch which she held up from a high tower. One night he was drowned, and she committed suicide by throwing herself from the tower. The lovers were mentioned in Ovid's Heroides, 18 and 19.

Sforza di Marcantonio da Casteldurante was recorded as a potter, and sometimes also as a painter, in Pesaro between 1550-2, and 1563, and when making his will in 1580. He signed himself 'SFORZA' on two panels dated 1567, respectively in the British Museum and the Museo Civico Medievale, Bologna. Dishes signed '.S.' in 1561, as this one is, and in some years up to and including 1576, are attributed to him on the basis of similarities with these panels. Sforza's choice of subjects, iconography, and inscriptions suggest that he had been contact with the Urbino maiolica painter, Francesco Xanto, probably in the late 1530s. Xanto painted several dishes with versions of 'Hero and Leander' between 1532 and 1538. He probably knew the story from a translation of Ovid's Heroides, but on the backs of the dishes he quoted from Francesco Petrarch's Trionfi, III, 21 'Leandro in mare ed Hero a la fenestra' (or Trionfi, II in editions with commentary by Bernardo Ilicini, first published in 1475). The first dish decorated with this subject which is attributed to Sforza was painted in 1546; the latest, in the Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum, Braunschweig, is dated 1576, and initialled '.S.' Both, like the Fitzwilliam's dish, have an inscription from Petrarch, and the figure of Leander used by Xanto, which was taken from a Marcantonio Raimondi school print, known as the 'Battle with the Cutlass' by Marco Dente (Bartsch, XIV, p 171, no. 211). The three dishes illustrate the persistence of popular themes over a long period, and the repetitive nature of much maiolica painting.

School or Style


People, subjects and objects depicted

Components of the work

Decoration composed of high-temperature colours ( blue, greyish-green, yellow, orange, shades of brown, and black; the reverse is pale beige) tin-glaze

Materials used in production


Techniques used in production

Tin-glazing : Earthenware, tin-glazed, painted in blue, greyish-green, yellow, orange, shades of brown, and black; the reverse is pale beige and has several pin holes.

Inscription or legends present

  • Location: On arch
  • Method of creation: Painted
  • Type: Inscription
  • Text: Leandro in Mare &./Hero alla finestra/.61./.S.
  • Location: On base
  • Method of creation: Painted
  • Type: Inscription

References and bibliographic entries

Identification numbers

Accession number: C.21-1995
Primary reference Number: 79589
Stable URI

Audit data

Created: Saturday 6 August 2011 Updated: Monday 3 July 2023 Last processed: Friday 8 December 2023

Associated departments & institutions

Owner or interested party: The Fitzwilliam Museum
Associated department: Applied Arts

Citation for print

This record can be cited in the Harvard Bibliographic style using the text below:

The Fitzwilliam Museum (2024) "Dish" Web page available at: Accessed: 2024-04-18 13:18:30

Citation for Wikipedia

To cite this record on Wikipedia you can use this code snippet:

{{cite web|url= |title=Dish |author=The Fitzwilliam Museum|accessdate=2024-04-18 13:18:30|publisher=The University of Cambridge}}

API call for this record

To call these data via our API (remember this needs to be authenticated) you can use this code snippet:

Bootstrap HTML code for reuse

To use this as a simple code embed, copy this string:

<div class="text-center">
    <figure class="figure">
        <img src=""
        class="img-fluid" />
        <figcaption class="figure-caption text-info">Dish</figcaption>

More objects and works of art you might like


Accession Number: GR.P.94


Accession Number: E.62.1898


Accession Number: E.S.27


Accession Number: E.11.1931

Suggested products from Curating Cambridge

You might be interested in this...

Sign up for updates

Updates about future exhibitions and displays, family activities, virtual events & news. You'll be the first to know...